Disclaimer: I started writing this right after Steve Jobs passed away. My views have changed a little and I appreciate his contribution a little more, but my underlying sentiment has stayed the same. My feelings are marred by own prejudice against leaders who tend to act in their own self-interest over the interest of society. I haven't figured out yet if Jobs fits into that category, but I look forward to reading his biography...
With the passing of Steve Jobs and the soon-to-be released biography, I'm conflicted on how I feel on his contribution to society. I'm not sure if my confusion is about the man, or about how society reacted to his role in it. My thoughts are captured in this article titled, "They Mystery of Steve Jobs' Public Giving", where the author, Andrew Sorkin, says:
Before writing this column, I had reservations about even raising the issue given his ill health, and frankly, because of the enormous positive impact his products have had by improving the lives of millions of people through technology.
Regarding Gates and Buffett:
Before Bill Gates decided to focus on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to give away their entire fortune, he was often cast as a greedy monopolist. Similarly, critics of Mr. Buffett sometimes zinged arrows at him before he announced his plan to give away the bulk of his wealth, using the foundation of his friend Bill Gates to allocate the money. Even after he announced his philanthropic plans, Mr. Buffett was criticized for not giving his money away earlier or for not devoting more energy to giving it away himself.
Regarding Apple's charity work:
Mr. Jobs’s views on charity are unclear since he rarely talks about it. But in 1997, when Mr. Jobs returned to Apple, he closed the company’s philanthropic programs. At the time, he said he wanted to restore the company’s profitability. Despite the company’s $14 billion in profits last year and its $76 billion cash pile today, the giving programs have never been reinstated.
But over all, Apple has been one of “America’s least philanthropic companies,” as termed by Stanford Social Innovation Review, a magazine about the nonprofit sector, in 2007.
An article featured in Wired back in January of 2006 titled, "Jobs vs. Gates: Who's the Star":
Given Jobs' social detachment, I'm confused by the adulation he enjoys. Yes, he has great charisma and his presentations are good theater. But his absence from public discourse makes him a cipher. People project their values onto him, and he skates away from the responsibilities that come with great wealth and power.
On the evidence, he's nothing more than a greedy capitalist who's amassed an obscene fortune. It's shameful. In almost every way, Gates is much more deserving of Jobs' rock star exaltation.
In the same way, I admire Bono over Mick Jagger, and John Lennon over Elvis, because they spoke up about things bigger than their own celebrity.
It's time for Jobs to do the same.
Why doesn't society celebrate people like Harish Hande, co-founder of Solar Electric Light Company of India. From the MNN article on his company and how cheap solar is in India:
Hande is a graduate of India’s elite Indian Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts, and unlike many electrical engineers, he decided to focus on the socioeconomics of implementing technology rather than the technology itself.
Imagine if Steve Jobs had retired from Apple and gone on to revolutionize solar power in the third world!
In my opinion (at this point I guess I can't say it is humble), there comes a point in a person's life where they can do more for the world by focusing their energy on something that improves humankind for generations to come. Mr. Jobs was a visionary in his field and a great CEO. He made the lives of millions of people better by improving the way they interact with technology. In the past 3 years I have gone from being an Apple hold out, to owning 2 iPhones, 2 Macs, and an iPad.
I love what Steve Jobs was able to do at Apple and as a technology innovator, but did he change the world for the better, or merely improve how we interact with technology? Am I just being an arrogant jerk because my passion is sustainability and not computer hardware and software like Jobs? Is it fair to say that "I wish he had done more for sustainable causes" or is that just selfish of me? Should we demand more of our leaders that we worship? If you were one of the most powerful people in the world, how would you spend your time? Are there responsibilities that come with great wealth and power?